December 2, 2010 | Scripps Howard News Service

The TSA Is Not the Enemy

I've been traveling a lot lately so I've been scanned, I've been patted and, on one occasion, there was even a close encounter with my “junk.” But I am not among those who are cross with the men and women of the Transportation Security Administration.  Why not? Because while waiting in the security queue, I always pause to remember who is really responsible for this inconvenience, this invasion of privacy and this monumental taxpayer expense: fanatics who adhere to interpretations of Islam that command the slaughter of non-Muslims as part of what they call a jihad — a religious war — that is to continue until infidels submit to Muslim supremacy and domination.

Most of the world's more than a billion Muslims are not waging jihad. But only a small minority denounces the militants without exception or equivocation. Part of the explanation: A Muslim who stands up to the jihadis will be branded by his more bellicose co-religionists as a traitor and an apostate – crimes for which they may be targeted for death along with Christians, Jews, Hindus and other “enemies of God.”

Fundamentalist Islam is not the only doctrine that inspires individuals to engage in terrorism. But this talking point should not be pushed to the breaking point: Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski are rare and isolated cases. The jihadis, by contrast, are organized and supported by a network of oil-rich sheikhs and mullahs, by a long list of “civil rights” groups claiming to fight “Islamophobia” and, most significantly, by powerful Islamic regimes.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has long been the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. It has facilitated the killing of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and, back in 1983, it tasked Hezbollah, which functions as its foreign legion, to suicide-bomb American peacekeepers in Lebanon. Iran's rulers now seek nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia plays both ends against the middle. It fights al-Qaeda even as it supports tens of thousands of mosques and madrassas around the world in which the fundamentalist Wahhabi reading of Islam is preached and taught. In its 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, released last week, the U.S. State Department noted that Saudi textbooks “continued to contain overtly intolerant statements against Jews and Christians and subtly intolerant statements against Shi'a and other religious groups.” According to a State Department cable that was included in the most recent WikiLeaks document dump, Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of al-Qaeda and other Sunni terrorist groups.

The Gulf states also straddle the fence. It's hardly a secret that there are wealthy Gulf sheikhs who donate generously to such groups as the Taliban. Qatar both hosts U.S. military forces and funds al-Jazeera.

Turkey, a member of NATO, has a government that can most charitably be called selective in its opposition to terrorism. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been moving closer to Iran's rulers even as they have unleashed waves of repression against Iranian dissenters. The Wikileaks release also included files confirming that Turkey has assisted al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a powerful coalition of more than 50 countries, has nothing to say about terrorism carried out in the name of Islam or about the support for terrorism provided by some of its members. Here in the U.S., CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations), not only denies the religious basis of most modern terrorism, it also encourages Muslims to think of themselves as victims. CAIR recently issued a statement asserting that “full-body scanners violate religious and privacy rights” and urging Muslims who object to the procedures to “immediately file a complaint with the TSA and report the incident to your local CAIR chapter.”

It's clever of CAIR to encourage the idea that the TSA is the problem. Much of the major media also are pushing this narrative. The lead article in the Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section last weekend was headlined: “The TSA is invasive, annoying – and unconstitutional.” Its author, a law professor, included not one word about the jihadi terrorists the TSA is attempting to combat.

If the TSA is as described above, here's the reason: Its mission is to search for weapons.  A more sophisticated TSA would expend at least some of its energy looking for terrorists. But that would require doing something politically incorrect: coming to terms with who the terrorists are, what motivates them, how they think and – most important — how they can be expected to behave as they prepare for what they regard as final acts of martyrdom.

Is an individual about to kill himself and his fellow passengers to fulfill a religious obligation free of all signs of nervousness? Or are there subtle behavioral signals  — what poker players call “tells” – that agents can be trained to spot by watching body language, looking people in the eye, and asking them simple questions as Israeli airport security officials do?

Over time, a rigid bureaucracy will be no match for agile and adaptive jihadis eager to kill and be killed. The TSA needs to learn how to learn – it needs to be an organization that fosters a culture of innovation. Regrettably, the TSA appears to be heading in the opposite direction: Unionization is likely. “Imagine if every change in procedures had to be cleared with union shop stewards,” the Wall Street Journal's John Fund wrote recently. “While it is not easy to fire TSA personnel now, just think how difficult it will be to remove bad employees if they are covered by union job protection agreements.”

In security work, as in so many endeavors, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. For the traveling public, that means directing our anger not at the TSA but at the Islamist terrorists, their enablers and their apologists. For the TSA that means acknowledging that the enemy is not a bottle of shampoo, toenail clippers or even a Swiss Army knife. The enemy is a self-proclaimed jihadi who sees the airport as a field of battle in the great war of the 21st century.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.